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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Miss Manners: How do I handle other people’s anxiety?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I sat at a charity event with a friend who is being treated for anxiety. My friend abruptly pointed out a flaw in another woman’s appearance. That woman ran out of the room, probably having her own anxiety attack.

I asked my friend why she did this, and she said it would be something she would want to know. When I asked why she had to say it so loudly and abruptly, I got a lecture on anxiety.

I have since tried to apologize to the other woman, but she is avoiding me. I think she was really hurt.

In another instance, a relative of mine posted something insensitive about a current event on social media. Several friends and family (though not me) pointed this out to her, and she started defending herself. Several people said that her arguments made her appear selfish.

My relative escalated things by saying that all the mean comments were triggering her anxiety, that she didn’t need that kind of negativity in her life, and that she was blocking everyone who didn’t agree with her.

I saw her mother later, and asked how she was dealing with her anxiety. Her mother said she never had anxiety, and that many of the things she used to justify her post were lies.

I don’t want to belittle anyone’s condition, but other people’s feelings matter, too. How does one handle situations like these?

GENTLE READER: Whether or not the perpetrator’s anxiety is real is not the point. Suffering does not confer license to make other people suffer. Rather, it should inspire empathy.

Yet Miss Manners is constantly hearing medical excuses — some plausible, some pretty far-fetched — for bad behavior. And as most everyone has a medical grievance of some sort, this approach could erase the concept of rudeness entirely, requiring humane people to let others get away with anything.

You need not let that happen. As you have noticed, pointing out rude people’s faults to them rarely makes them contrite. But the natural consequence of people behaving rudely is that others do not want to be around them. Surely you do not want to attend another event with someone who insults other guests, nor subject yourself to a spiteful relative.

As you say, feelings matter. Including yours.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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